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School of Andrea Mantegna (16th Century), Italian

The Triumph of Caesar: The Senators


Collection of La Salle University Art Museum, 76-G-648

The First Year Seminar, “Shakespeare Today,” asks students to explore Shakespeare’s plays within the context of his time and then asks how and why Shakespeare’s works are so frequently invoked to address contemporary issues. One of the plays we will study is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which made headlines in 2017 after the Public Theater’s “Shakespeare in the Park” performance where Caesar was depicted as a Donald Trump-like figure.

This early 16th-century print is another example of an early modern attempt to make sense of the complexity of Caesar’s tragedy. The depiction of the Senators in this print is similar to Shakespeare’s play in suggesting ambivalence about the meaning of Caesar’s rise and fall. The print is one of a series depicting Caesar’s victorious return to Rome. While many of the other prints depict a celebratory procession, the Senators here appear somber in mood with some of the faces seeming almost skeletal. It is clear that for the Senators, at least, there is something to be mourned in Caesar’s victory. Thus, like Shakespeare’s play, this image raises questions about how we should understand the tragedy that is soon to follow. Is Caesar’s triumph, which will lead to the end of the Roman Republic, something to be celebrated or mourned? Are we to be sympathetic to the Senator’s forthcoming loss of power (a political death hinted at by their skeletal faces), or are we to mourn Caesar, who will be assassinated by the hands of several of these Senators? Does the ambiguity that appears in these early modern works help us to contextualize today’s controversy over theatrical performances that insert contemporary figures into historical settings?

Claire M. Busse, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of English

Broader Identity

  • 1. Understanding Diverse Perspectives

Expanded Literacies

  • 4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning

Effective Expression

  • 9. Creative and Artistic Expression

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